Friday, February 14, 2014

In Defense of Bill DeBlasio

In this, the winter of everyone's discontent, we are suffering through what seems like endless snowstorms, mixed with bone chilling freezing temperatures, not seen in these parts for decades. As soon as the snow has been cleared, and often before, the next blizzard is upon us.

Of course, all economic activity has been disrupted, municipalities have burned through their snow removal budgets, business activity is down, and the normally soul crushing ritual of daily commuting has become more akin to navigating through Dante's rings of hell.

It is in this setting that the topic of school closings has come to the fore. In New York City, the public schools have remained open during the last couple of "snow events" and Mayor Bill DeBlasio has been pilloried for this. The suburbs have mostly closed their schools, and DeBlasio's decision to remain open has been heavily criticized.

The suburbs have racked up the snow days this year. Several emergency make up days have already been scheduled, and more might be required. These days are very disruptive, as they shorten scheduled vacations and many families plans will be adversely impacted.

But, DeBlasio's decision to remain open, is what is drawing fire. In his news conference, DeBlasio defended his decision, correctly pointing out the fact that the MTA remained functional, and pointing out that decisions based on weather forecasts have a built in fuzziness, that can never be exactly predicted. He said he based his decision, in concert with his school chancellor and other city departments. He took into account the needs of public schools families that rely, in many cases, on the schools to provide a safe place for children to learn, and receive proper supervision and nutritious meals. New York City has 1.1 million school children that it serves, and the city, more than any suburban village, has the resources to bring to bear on clearing the streets and continuing to operate the schools. He added a historical note, that since 1978, the NYC school system has only been shut eleven times.

In spite of the uproar of many in the press, and more than a few perturbed parents, I agree with DeBlasio. When, during his press conference, he pointed out that it was his job to keep the schools open, that this being NYC, we are able to handle and accomplish more than other cities, I was gladdened to hear what is rarely heard from politicians these days. Leadership, and a staunch belief in the innate ability of the city to rise above challenges that knock aside other places, and the defense of that position in the face of whiny attacks and refute them with hard facts and reality based analysis.

Liberals are often tarred with a label of "bleeding hearts" and "weak" by radical conservatives. Is it "bleeding heart" to understand the needs of poor families that rely upon schools as a key component in the care of their children, and taking the tough and unpopular measures to see that those needs are looked after? No, it takes toughness, and it's refreshing to see the Mayor of New York City take the heat for making the tough choices, and unapologetically defend them.

After 9/11, New York City was changed. We became a frightened city, a quasi police state more concerned with shows of power rather than real power, the power and resilience to live up to the great legacy of a can-do city. We became too soft, catering to the rich, and humiliating the minorities of the city in the name of "security".

After six weeks of Bill DeBlasio, this could be the start of a beautiful friendship.

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